People who want to work on their accent sometimes choose to go to a speech language pathologist (speech therapy) who has specialized in accent modification. One reason for this is that some private medical plans cover up to 85% of the costs of working with a speech language pathologist, as they are officially called. I have been asked by some prospective students if speech therapists are better than other trainers when it comes to accent modification. As Voice to Word has trainers with a wide range of background, including one speech therapist, I thought it would be a good idea to explain my thoughts here.
Speech Language Pathologists study many aspects of speech, voice and anatomy, among other things. While not doctors, they work within the health field and generally deal with what could be considered abnormal issues in speech and voice. Because they understand the mechanics of speech, they are well suited to work within the accent modification field. But note: many speech therapists do not have a teaching background and they may lack experience and knowledge teaching the English language or Canadian culture.
If we compare a speech therapist with an ESL teacher or an actor, there are certainly differences in the training. Most ESL teachers do not have much background in accent modification but some have studied this area and have considerable experience, both of which increase the skill of the trainer. Actors have also studied voice, speech and dialect which can qualify them to teach accent modification. Trained singers, too, have background in voice, breath and articulation, all of which contribute to the pool of useful knowledge in this area.
One thing to note is that issues with accent are often accompanied by other issues of language and culture. Many times the issues of clarity include aspects such as volume and projection (which can be culturally influenced,) ways of expressing oneself (which can also be culturally shaped,) as well as tone, grammar and other aspects of stress and intonation which can totally change the intended meaning. Therefore, a qualified trainer benefits from having background in all these areas and skill as a teacher.
At Voice to Word Consulting, all our trainers have a diverse background and experience which makes our team skilled and versatile in the area of accent modification and refining communication skills within the Canadian business environment. In particular, Julie Cohn, our speech therapist, has a degree in Linguistics and is a trained actor in addition to her studies and experience in speech language pathology. You can check out the profiles of our team members here.
My advice is, if you have health coverage which includes speech language pathology, take advantage of it and work with a speech therapist. But find out about that person’s professional background and make sure you understand what they can offer you. If you don’t have private health coverage, find a qualified and experienced trainer who you like to work with – this is very important so you feel motivated – but also someone experienced in language teaching.
On a final note – if you do decide to work with a speech therapist, please remember that there is nothing wrong or abnormal about having an accent. We all have an accent and we can change it to the degree we learn, practice and focus on it in our daily communication. We are all influenced by our native language and regional dialect and it is a matter of building awareness, understanding the differences, practice and integration, both at the physical and psychological levels.